It still doesn’t have the familiar ring, but WNBC is marking one year for anchor team Chuck Scarborough and Shiba Russell at 11 p.m. It’s also a year since Channel 4 parted ways with the extremely popular Sue Simmons.
Not surprisingly, even the legendary anchorman found “The Chuck and Shiba Show” slow at the outset. Multiple requests to interview Scarborough and Russell for this article were denied by Channel 4.
“They’re better now than they certainly were a year ago when they started,” an insider says. “It’s been hard for Shiba. It’s been an adjustment for her too.”
That adjustment, the insider says, involves her switch from daytime to late hours, with a young daughter.
“She’s hanging in there, I think.”
Russell may have struggled in the high-profile role, but she was clearly on the fast track to succeed Simmons from day-one at 30 Rock in 2011. Also clear, Chuck and Shiba are not a long term answer for WNBC. Scarborough is 69, Russell is 37.
The numbers have been steadily below average at 11 p.m., consistently losing to WABC, and battling WCBS for second. Earlier this year, the late newscast got a kick in the teeth when NBC registered its first-ever fifth place showing in prime time.
“Sometimes you come in to work the next day after what you’ve done with your show, and it still doesn’t make a difference,” the insider states. “To have to go through that day in and day out is hard.”
But the insider is encouraged that WNBC is trying its best to make a dent in the ratings. For example, Channel 4 is one of the stations that will cover the debates for city races this fall with David Ushery and Melissa Russo on the panel. Perhaps it shows an expanded talent pool, but still an odd move, not having any lead anchor representation.
The insider opines, “You have to question what is going on in the station’s thinking. I just found that very bizarre.”
The tandem officially started June 18 of last year, but it wasn’t until a month later with the Summer Olympics lead-in that the duo got into high gear working together on a nightly basis.
Even though, Russell was previously Simmons’ unofficial back-up, the scrutiny of the permanent role gave them a chance to iron out the kinks and find chemistry. However, the low viewership should not be an excuse for making Chuck and Shiba into a well-oiled machine, the insider contends.
“It’s almost like there’s no incentive, sometimes.”
The insider says perhaps they just ignore the numbers by fighting through each broadcast.
Separately, the insider believes WNBC is lacking in terms of reporter depth compared to the other stations. Those are all factors that could expedite Scarborough’s exit on his own terms. Simmons intimated in February to this reporter that he has a clause in his contract allowing him to walk away.
The insider concurs, “Who knows how much longer Chuck is going to be there?”
However, if Scarborough is upset about losing his iconic partner, you’d never know it.
“He’s a good soldier. He never complains,” the insider claims. “He doesn’t do anything more or anything less.”
Scarborough did more last December when he made a rare appearance outside of the studio to cover the tragic Newtown, Connecticut school shooting.
Arguably, Scarborough’s best asset could also be his worst liability. He is steady—in some ways the definition of an anchor— but he’s not flashy. Scarborough, who is approaching 40 years at WNBC in March, is a throwback broadcaster.
“[For] some anchors, it’s about them. I don’t think Chuck is that way,” the insider adds. “He’s very old school.”
He remains completely engaged in all aspects of the newscasts, the insider says, such as talking to writers about finding ways to freshen up their copy.
But as the station struggles to find viewers, many internally take the sacrilegious tack of blaming Scarborough.
“There are people who don’t like him there…Maybe he’s too old, maybe he’s too stiff, and maybe he’s not hip enough,” the insider says. “Chuck is just as plain as they come.”
Of course, Simmons famously brought out the personality in her partner for years.
Only Russell regularly shares the anchor desk with Scarborough, and that’s at 11 p.m., as he does the 6 p.m. solo.
Scarborough did use his clout with management to keep the team intact and by trying to win her an extension beyond June 2012.
“They were too angry at [Simmons],” the insider recalls.
Initially, it is believed that Simmons would stay with Channel 4, but her March 2012 interview in the New York Post likely sealed her fate.
As for Russell, her work ethic isn’t questioned, but her amount of work is.
“I don’t understand. None of us can understand why she’s off as much as she’s off.”
But the person says there is no animosity toward her.
When she is on, the insider ponders if Russell a known market commodity, a task that is not easy to accomplish.
Her New York experience prior to Channel 4 is limited to Cablevision properties News 12 The Bronx and the now defunct Neighborhood News 12.
The former Boston anchor began at WNBC as a weekend anchor with Ushery. Her credibility with Channel 4 viewers was forged in 2011, the Sunday night when Osama bin Laden was captured.
Overall, the numbers have not changed much since the Chuck and Sue days. That leads to another potential problem for Comcast in this cost cutting world of 2013.
“Chuck makes a lot of money,” the insider says. “How do you keep paying him the kind of money they’re paying him and the ratings are not there? You’ve got to wonder.”